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Top Gun

Paramount // PG // August 30, 2011
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted August 19, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Holy crap, 25 years since Top Gun came out? I feel old all of a sudden. While I never saw this in theaters, I remember seeing it when it came to video, then virtually every weekend afterwards. The latter was not my doing, my Dad always wanted something to watch on TV while he would clean and iron. I would go out, come back, and the thing would always be on. It was like Kenny Loggins was performing a concert in my house, which I guess meant if you liked easy listening music or were a real anti-Jim Messina person, our house was the place to be. But I've grown up since then, and I'd like to think my tastes have evolved as well. Or have they?

Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps (Anaconda) and directed by Tony Scott (Days of Thunder), Tom Cruise (Jerry Maguire) plays Maverick, a talented Naval pilot who sometimes flies a little too close to the proverbial edge. Maverick and his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards, Zodiac) are enrolled in the Top Gun program, a Navy class that teaches combat airfare strategies and techniques to blossoming pilots. His main competition at Top Gun is Iceman (Val Kilmer, MacGruber), an abrasive yet mild-mannered and precise pilot. The competition between the two is fierce, and further complicating matters is Maverick's relationship with Charlie (Kelly McGillis, The Accused), an instructor at Top Gun. While a woman isn't exactly Maverick's character conflict that keeps the film going, Maverick has to overcome the price for being as reckless as he is with an airplane, and when stuff starts getting real for the Navy, the next question becomes whether or not Maverick can pull it together and be the type of pilot he needs to.

I had forgotten how light this movie was on well, everything, to be honest. Maverick and Goose go from being on an aircraft carrier and getting mildly reprimanded to being part of a contest to determine the most combat-ready pilot? Maverick romances someone who plays an integral part in his performance at Top Gun? Come on, it's basically the Seinfeld episode where Kramer starts dating the lab technician responsible for testing the yogurt at the shop he owns to determine if it has fat or not. It's tainting the results, convincing or not. And through it all, Cruise provides the audience with enough smiles, looks of confidence and confusion (sometimes all at once) to make the women swoon and the men envious. This was shameless movie making in the '80s, something that made you want to drink a Pepsi and do a bump of coke and smack a woman on the ass while doing so. If any of that sounds clich├ęd, then that's a perfect complement to the dialogue from the screenplay ("What's your problem, Kazanski?" "You're everyone's problem"). The movie is 95 minutes of airplane porn, has no qualms of being so at times, and within that prism is fine, but making it out to be some bastion of cinema by slapping an anniversary tag on it hardly makes it so.

That doesn't mean the whole thing is bad. Of the cast, I'd assert that Edwards was my favorite performance of the bunch (and in a very early role, Meg Ryan plays Goose's wife), with an honorable mention to Michael Ironside (Total Recall) as Jester, the stern instructor in Top Gun and accomplished pilot in his own right. But with such a thin story and so many impressionable young acting presences in it, the film is hampered by its lack of depth and dimension.

In between the many times I saw this growing up and now, there was some time I spent in the Army that broke up the gap here. And in thinking about the underlying homoerotic element of the film that Adam Tyner refers to in his review, I'd stipulate that spending time in the service makes for some esprit de corps that other environments wouldn't have, be it college roommates or people on a sports team, and its emphasized all the more so when you're using a piece of equipment that costs tens of millions of dollars. It certainly might not make Quentin Tarantino wrong when he went on that rant back in the mid-1990s, but it's worth pointing out.

At the end of the day, Top Gun is what it is, and makes no bones about it. It's flying, it's goofy dialogue, lots of beefcake shots and a soundtrack that with Kenny Loggins, Berlin and Harold Faltermeyer, has enough earworm fuel to keep you going for a couple days. And in coming back to it now, while it may be guilt-free viewing, the flash over substance is something that I've gotten over rather easily, and would hope others like me have as well.

The Blu-ray Disc:
The Video:

Presented in 2.40:1 high-definition widescreen using the AVC encode, Top Gun is a little shaky ground for me. By all accounts I've read, the only difference between this and the 2008 release is in the supplements department. Not having seen the 2008 release to compare if a new transfer really was done, this one is a mixed bag. Sure there is decent image detail in facial poring and beads of sweat on the brow (along with some background detailing), and flesh tones appear to be replicated accurately. However, on the flip side there appears to be noticeable DNR in scenes (like in the hangar/classroom session and in the hallway post-butt chewing), and I couldn't spot any film grain to speak of. Blacks are solid albeit unspectacular and the image detail might be sharp, but it's inconsistent. Is it better than the standard def disc? Sure. But if you're looking for an upgrade over the previous disc in video quality, you might want to hold off.

The Sound:

A choice of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio surround sound options, and either one is outstanding. I tried doing an on the fly comparison during the opening scenes with the score and the planes leaving the deck, and some aerial sequences later and the lower end proved to be more robust, particularly in the quieter moments when things like "Danger Zone" were playing or even during the infamous volleyball sequence, when the thud of the ball sounded crisp and clean. Dialogue is a little on the weak side, but is consistent and does not pan to the other front channels. If you've got a six (or seven) speakers and want to show off their power, this is worthwhile material to do so.


The extras from the 2008 disc are still here, along with a digital copy on a second disc to boot. The highlight is a Charles De Lauzirika produced, six-part documentary called "Danger Zone," an all-encompassing look at the making of the film that clocks in at almost two and a half hours in length. We start with "From the Ground Up" (29:59), which looks at the pre-production stage. Scott jokes that he was trying not to make The Hunger on an aircraft carrier before the story about securing the rights is recounted by Bruckheimer. Epps talks about how he came to writing the screenplay and the initial bumps in ironing out the story in drafts. The discussion of securing Cruise is remembers and the other notable cast (save McGillis and Edwards) talks about how they go their roles. There is also footage of the cast being put through their paces to get ready for their pilot characters in training. From there, "Playing With The Boys" (26:40) covers the principal photography with the cast and includes loads of photos of them partying, cavorting and just having a generally fun time. The work with the Navy (and the Defense Department) is recalled here too, and the many shirtless scenes are discussed, some of which includes remembering by Rick Rossovich, who played Iceman's co-pilot Slider. "The Need For Speed" (28:26) covers the photography of and from the planes, and gets into some slight breaking down of some shots and illustrates how some of the filming was accomplished. There is more preparation footage of the cast and some of them recall how they got airsick, and there is remembrance of a crash which occurred during production. Next up is "Back To Basics" (17:09), which examines the visual effects required to accomplish some of the dogfights and crashes. Lots of test footage is included here and the preparation and shooting footage is included also. It's easy to forget that some of these things were done pre-CG and the effort that was undertaken to realize the visuals was admirable. "Combat Rock" (21:31) gives Loggins and Faltermeyer (among others) the chance to recall what it was like to do the music in the film and the latter discusses how he landed the role to score the film and some of the challenges he faced in doing the music. Heck, even the girl from Berlin got interviewed here! "Afterburn" (23:55) wraps up with some final thoughts on the production and how the cast and crew have dealt with the legacy and popularity of the film since then, along with some last-minute scrambling to add some footage into the cut of the film after it was ravaged in test screenings. It's an outstanding look at the film, though admittedly I would have liked to seen more from Cruise (and anything from McGillis and Edwards). Another quality piece from de Lauzirika.

There is more, starting with a commentary by Bruckheimer, Scott, Epps, Captain Mike Galpin, technical advisor Pete Pettigrew and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. The track is mainly driven by Scott as he talks about the shot intent and has great specific recollection about a scene and on the production as a whole. The differences in the real vs. "Hollywood" elements are told form both sides and the ordeal to get Naval approval is remembered. The track itself is a little disappointing, especially if you've already seen "Danger Zone," but it's a nice addition to the film nonetheless. Following that are two multi-angle presentations of storyboards (with optional commentary from Scott) on two aerial sequences, and include comparison film of the final product. "Best of the Best" (28:46) is a tour in and around the real Top Gun facilities, and includes discussions on the training material and the live exercises with both instructors and students. Training through the years and the changes it's undergone are discussed, along with the goals in training before, during and after flights. Next up is section of the vintage material, including the making-of (5:30) and training (7:30) featurettes, four music videos (16:58), seven TV spots (3:46) and some old interview footage with Cruise (6:42).

Final Thoughts:

It's pretty simple actually, the only difference between the version from three years ago and now is the digital copy. Unless you really really want it, I would not double-dip if you have the previous Blu-ray. However, if you're still holding onto the standard def disc, the lossless tracks alone are reason enough to upgrade, and everything else is gravy on top of the biscuit. And if you've got neither and are looking for demo material? Go for it.

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